Osbern Bokenham (1393-1467?) was an Augustinian friar from Stoke-Clare, Suffolk. Like Capgrave, he studied at Cambridge during the 1420s, and he
eventually became an Augustinian administrator, serving as vicar general in 1461 and 1463
for his order's provincial chapter meetings. Though he spent most of his life at Clare, he mentions visits to Spain, Italy, and Wales.
Bokenham was a prolific hagiographer. He started writing saints' lives in English about the same time Capgrave did. His first endeavor,
a verse life of Saint Margaret, was written in 1443 at the request of his fellow friar Thomas Burgh. In his prologue to that life,
he professed to be reluctant to write for fear of criticism, much as Capgrave
did in his Life of Saint Norbert. During the 1440s, Bokenham wrote more lives of female saints in Middle English verse, most
at the request of his East Anglian friends and neighbors. In 1447, Burgh commissioned an anthology of thirteen of those lives.
That anthology survives as British Library MS Arundel 327 and is known as his Legends of Holy Women.
Bokenham knew Capgrave's Life of Saint Katherine: he refers to it in the prologue to his own shorter and simpler account of the saint's
martyrdom, written for two friends named Katherine and included in Arundel 327. To judge from "Katherine" and the other the saints' lives
contained in Arundel 327, Bokenham was a conservative
author, who eschewed the morally and theologically complex hagiography that was being written by Capgrave, Lydgate, and other contemporaries.
In 2004 a second, much larger, collection of Bokenham's lives was discovered in the library of the Faculty of Advocates in Abbotsford, Scotland, and
was identified by Simon Horobin as the "englische boke" that Bokenham claims in his "Mappula Angliae" to have "compiled of
legenda aurea and of oþer famous legendes." The so-called Abbotsford Legenda aurea shows that Bokenham has a far greater range than
one would suspect from the lives comprising Arundel 327. Bokenham was the first English hagiographer to give Augustine's mother Monica a life of
her own, and that life bears comparison with Capgrave's extended account of Monica in his Life of St. Augustine. Bokenham also composed a life of Augustine. His life of the learned St. Barbara is similar to Capgrave's
Katherine in its intricate plotting, theological disquisitions, and moral complexity. The Abbotsford collection is an odd amalgam of verse and prose that includes most of the lives found in
Arundel 327, albeit without their references to specific patrons and dedicatees.
In addition to his saints' lives, Bokenham wrote a geographical treatise in Middle English, the "Mappula Angliae" mentioned above. He is also thought to have authored a
translation of Claudian's fifth-century panegyric De Consulatu Stilichonis and "Dialogue at the Grave," which recounts the ancestors and descendants
of Clare Priory's foundress, Joan of Acre, daughter of King Edward I. (In his Chronicles, Capgrave recounts Joan's burial at Clare Priory and the
exhumation of her incorrupt body fifty-two years later.)
- Legendys of Hooly Wummen. Ed. Mary S. Serjeantson. EETS.OS 206. 1938. Reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
- Middle English Legends of Women Saints. Ed. Sherry L. Reames. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003. ["Anne" on
pp. 275–302; also available online.]
- "Mappula Angliae." Ed. Carl Horstman. Englische Studien 10 (1887): 1–34.
- "Dialogue at the Grave." Ed. Katherine W. Barnardiston. In Clare Priory: Seven Centuries of a Suffolk House. Ed. Barnardiston.
Cambridge: Heffer, 1962.
- A Legend of Holy Women: A Translation of Osbern Bokenham’s Legends of Holy Women. Trans. Sheila Delany.
Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.
- Chaste Passions: Medieval English Virgin Martyr Legends,
ed. Karen A. Winstead (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Press, 2000). ["Agnes" and "Dorothy" on pp. 99–114.]
- Delany, Sheila. Impolitic Bodies: Poetry, Saints, and Society in Fifteenth-Century England;
The Work of Osbern Bokenham. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. [Develops the controversial thesis
that Bokenham created the Legends of Holy Women as a response to Chaucer's Legend of Good Women.]
- —. "Bokenham's Claudian as Yorkist Propaganda." Journal of Medieval History 22 (1996): 83–96.
- Edwards, A. S. G. "The Transmission and Audience of Osbern Bokenham's Legendys of Hooly Wummen." In Late Medieval
Religious Texts and their Transmission. Ed. Alastair Minnis. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1994. 157–67.
- Gibson, Gail McMurray. "Saint Anne and the Religion of Childbed: Some East Anglian
Texts and Talismans." In Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society.
Ed. Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn.
Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990. 95–110.
- Hilles, Carroll. "Gender and Politics in Osbern Bokenham's Legendary." New Medieval Literatures 4 (2001): 189–212.
- Horobin, Simon. “The Angle of Oblivion: A Lost Medieval Manuscript Discovered in Walter Scott’s Library at Abbotsford.”
Times Literary Supplement. November 11, 2005. [Announces the discovery and his identification of the collection of
Bokenham's English saints' lives long presumed lost.]
- —. "Politics, Patronage, and Piety in the Work of Osbern Bokenham." Speculum 82 (2007): 932–49. [How the
"Abbotsford Legenda aurea" nuances our understanding of Bokenham as a hagiographer.]
- —. "A Manuscript Found in Abbotsford House and the Lost Legendary of Osbern Bokenham." English Manuscript Studies, 1100–1700
14 (2007): 132–64.
- Jankowski, Eileen S. "Reception of Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale: Osbern Bokenham's Lyf of S. Cycyle."
The Chaucer Review 30 (1996): 306–18.
- Johnson, Ian. "Tales of a True Translator: Medieval Literary Theory, Anecdote, and Autobiography in Osbern Bokenham's
Legendys of Hooly Wummen" In The Medieval Translator, IV. Ed. Roger Ellis and Ruth Evans.
Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1994. 104–24.
- Mills, Robert. "Can the Virgin Martyr Speak?" In Medieval Virginities. Ed. Anke Bernau, Ruth Evans,
and Sarah Salih. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2003. 187–213.
- Price, Paul. "Trumping Chaucer: Osbern Bokenham’s Katherine." Chaucer Review 36 (2001): 158–83.
- Sanok, Catherine. Her Life Historical: Exemplarity and Female Saints’ Lives in Late Medieval England.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. [See especially Chapter 3, "Fictions of Feminine Community in Bokenham's Legendary" (50–82),
on the "Legends of Holy Women."
Sanok maintains that Bokenham "refuses the kind of allegorical use of female saints’ lives that we see in Capgrave.
He offers a feminine textual tradition as an alternative to—not an allegory for—a masculine political arena" (82).]
- Winstead, Karen A. Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Late Medieval England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
[See especially Chapter 3, "Decorous Lives: Saints and Consumers, 1400–1450" (112–46), for Bokenham's participation in a trend towards more exemplary,
less confrontational saints.]